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(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

Bren stared as the small woman, apparently unconcerned with protocol, looked around the room, moving towards the table, then to the bed, even stooping to look under the bed. Standing up again, she waved the guards out saying, “Keep watch, see that no one disturbs me.”

“Yes, Pharaoh,” one said, as they all filed out.

Straightening the covers on the bed, she sat, looking up at Bren saying, “You may tell your servants to rise and leave also.”

Not having noticed the girls still prostrated on the ground, Bren said, “Saras, its okay, you can go.” When they hesitated, Bren nudged one with her foot, thinking to herself, They’re not my slaves, but said instead, “Up, Sara.” With eyes down, the two Nubian girls rose and exited, leaving only Hatshepsut and Bren in the room together.

I was killed today

The small monarch studied the tall blond for a moment, then said, “I was killed today, you know, or so they tell me. I look amazing for a dead woman, don’t you think?”

Brenzel, shifting her weight, noted how plainly Hatshepsut was dressed. Only the golden headband with emeralds gave her away. For the first time, she looked more like her old friend, Doc, whom she’d met in 1918 during World War I.

Going on, Hatshepsut admitted, “You were right, I was in great danger, the attack happened this morning.”

Mind going back to the words God spoke through her, Bren said, “I am sorry, my Pharaoh,” wondering now if the lady on the bed was real or an apparition. Bren was fast learning that nothing normal applied to her life any more.

Looking at the tall slave’s reaction, Hatshepsut added, “Don’t be absurd! I’m not really dead, Brenzel! They merely killed my double.”

“Oh! That’s good…I mean bad…um, I mean bad for your double, but good for you.”

A faint smile graced her lips and eyes, as Pharaoh said, “Please, just call me Hatty.”

Double down

“You see, some years ago, I tired of performing Amun’s rebirth ritual each morning. The affairs of state kept me up late, and I really wasn’t interested in temple work any longer. So, to keep up appearances, I searched for a double and found a woman who, with a little makeup, looked very much like me. Since she used my private entrance and the temples inner sanctuary is always fairly dark, no one noticed.”

Standing up and coming over to Bren, Hatshepsut laid her hand on her shoulder, saying, “I believe you spoke truth to me, Brenzel. You warned me – at great risk to your own life. I wish I had believed you earlier. You have my deepest gratitude.”

Looking at her, Brenzel said, “Thank you…Hatty”

What else?

Touching her hair as one would feel fabric, Hatty said, “I don’t know what you are, frankly, but you do seem to have the eye of Ra. My Senenmut believed in you, too.” Looking at Bren, Hatshepsut inquired, “Tell me, what else does your God say?”

Feeling put on the spot, Brenzel, with a blank look on her face, said,”I don’t know…Pharaoh.”

Interrupting, the small woman corrected, “Hatty.”

Bren said, “Hatty. . . . He speaks to me at the oddest times, and I never know what He will say.”

Walking around to her other said, Hatty said, “I see. A most inconvenient voice, then.”

Suddenly, a picture of a woman with the ears of a cow flashed in Bren’s mind and she asked, “What is Dendera?”

Pausing for a moment, surprised, Hatty said, “It’s Hathor’s home. Not far from here, really, about a day’s travel by barge.” Then after pausing for a moment, she continued, “You know, Maskia told me all about the light above your head. Those women really believe that you are Hathor.” Then, she leveled her gaze, saying “Are you?”

Bren felt that she was fishing, but with sincerity replied, “No, I’m not a goddess, Hatty. I’m…well, I’m a Seraph.”

The small woman walked away, then returned, cocking her head slightly, saying, “I think you may be closer to Hathor than you think.” Then, moving towards the door, she said as she left, “It is almost the first of the new year, I think it’s time you and I paid a visit to your house.”

A brisk wine

(Rome, 1690)

Matteo sat in a chair, sipping some “brisk wine”. While many didn’t like the bubbles, he rather fancied them. English loved them, while the French despised them. However, the French despised everything not French, so really no fair comparison there. He waved off another glass offered by Pietro, saying, “Ask the kitchen for a platter of something, I feel hungry.” Head slightly bowing, his manservant went off to inquire.

Alone, Matteo’s manservant headed to the back of the house, towards what he assumed must be a servants’ area, hoping to find the kitchen. Everything, literally everything – walls, ceilings, and floors – was exquisitely decorated in murals of nobility and their lives. Deeper down the hallway he went, taking in the opulence, hoping to find someone to assist him. Oddly enough, there seemed to be no one nearby. Normally, a large staff attended noble women. Finding an open door, he knocked, stepping in. Only a study, he thought, noting correspondence on the desk.

Exhausted

Back in the reception room, Mafalda watched her little Imperiali sleep. Looking up, seeing that Fiammetta appeared tired, she said, “I think you need rest.”

Fia, indeed feeling exhausted, for she’d made love until very late last evening, then woke up to feed little Nico a couple of times before dawn, said, “Yes, but I don’t want to leave you alone, that would be impolite.”

“Pish posh,” the old woman said, “come, call your servants and lets get you a little nap before dinner time.”

Gratefully, after the servants prepared her bed and helped her dress in a night gown, Fia laid her head on her favorite pillow. Nico lay in the bassinet next to her, still peacefully asleep. The old woman, sitting on a chair next to them both, watched as Fiammetta closed her eyes.

Rising, Mafalda took another long look at her great grandson, then made her way out, closing the door softly behind her.

Arrow?

(Karnak, Egypt, 1459 BC)

The court physician’s chambers were not one Hatshepsut ever visited before, for he always came to her. Yet today, out of necessity, she made her way with her guards to his chambers in a little-used part of the palace. In the room, her double lay on the table, with 3 standing next to the medical sage as they examined the body. As she entered, both men stood at attention, waiting for her to speak.

Looking at the deceased woman, someone she knew and trusted for years, Hatshepsut’s anger burned brighter. The body, laying on it’s side, revealed a hole in her back. “Arrow?” she murmur, half statement, half question.

“Yes, great Pharaoh,” the physician concurred. “Hittite, we believe, by the shape of the entry point.”

So brazen! Pharaoh thought to herself. Hatshepsut didn’t like being so close to death, so she backed away and turned towards her new Vizier. “What are your thoughts, Vizier?” 3, studying her face, thought, She’s a wreck, barely holding herself together. Tread lightly.

“An obvious assassination attempt, Great Pharaoh. Most likely Hittite in origin, in cooperation with the upper echelons of the priesthood. I’ve been going over their accounts and it seems the temple treasuries are much lighter than expected. I believe this is an act of desperation, but well coordinated. However, they now believe you dead – we have the advantage.”

Needing a hug

Hatshepsut looked up at his chiseled jaw. Closing her eyes, she felt like a small child in need of a hug. If anything scared him about the day’s event, her Vizier didn’t show it. When he looked at her, he did so without deference, treating her simply as a human being. Feeling her knees buckle, she began to slump to the floor, as strong sure hands caught her. She’d never felt such strength and sureness, except in Senenmet, her late lover. Then, eyes slowly opening again, she focused on 3’s face, his eyes looking intently into hers, as he said, “Pharaoh? Are you all right?”

“Yes, I…I must have fainted. I’m sorry,” she said, grabbing his arm to steady herself. “I’ll be alright…just give me a moment,” the small woman promised.

“Bring a chair,” 3 commanded the physician.

“No, no…just hold on to me. I’m fine.” Hatshepsut then asked, “What, then, is your recommendation Vizier?”

3, calculating in his head for a split second, answered, “We are obviously in the midst of a well-advanced plot to bring down the house of Thutmose. Perhaps they hope to install their own choice of Pharaoh. Now that they have eliminated Senenmut and believe they have eliminated you, the next logical course of action would be to kill your nephew, Thutmose III.”

Hatshepsut barely heard anything 3 said, the man was a rock! She felt immediately more in control of both herself and the situation as he steadied her. “Then, what course of action shall I take?” she asked, looking over and up at him, trying to focus on her duties.

His blue eyes looked kindly at her as he said, “Please, Pharaoh, let me help you sit, I need to use my abacus for a moment. If you don’t mind.”

As the physician moved the chair into position she sat, saying, “Of course,” and nodded.

Probabilities

Taking out his abacus, 3’s fingers moved the beads deftly, and in a moment he said, “We need to know the extent of the conspiracy. Since they believe you’re dead, they will move swiftly to consolidate power in advance of Thutmose’s arrival. I believe that you should stay hidden until the first day of the new year. If my calculations are correct, you’ve already decided to travel to Dendera with the woman called Brenzel.”

Unable to hide her surprise, she asked, “How did you…?”

“Simple deduction, based on mathematical probabilities,” 3 answered.

Despite herself, her stomach moved and she felt weak again – this time for real. As she looked at him, tall and muscular beneath his official garment, she wished protocol permitted more. As a woman, she needed a hero, and she felt in her heart that the man nicknamed “3” was it. Her analytical side, though, was even more impressed by his clear thinking. Yes, the right move was to take her enemy by surprise at the ancient temple. The slave Brenzel, whatever she was, had suddenly become very, very useful.

Dinner with Dolce

(Rome, 1690)

The formal dinner, a rather small one, comprised Fiammetta, Mafalda, Matteo, and the infernal mutt, Dolce, who sat on a pillow atop a chair, elevating his snout just above the edge of the table, between Matteo and the grand dam. As Dolce alternately growled at Matteo and yapped at others, Matteo wondered if the dog felt the whole dinner was in his honor.

While others ate and chatted politely, Matteo sat and nibbled on a fresh roll. The dinner, some type of liver and onion concoction, didn’t appeal to him in the least. Marking time, Matteo scooted a little to the left of the annoying dog, hoping the whole ordeal would be over soon.

Eat your dinner Matteo

“Dear, eat your dinner,” Mafalda encouraged.

However Matteo said nothing, pushing it to one side.

Mildly annoyed, his Nonna said, “It’s perfectly good food, grandson.” Then, seeing that her protestations had no effect, she took the plate of food from him as if she meant to eat it. Pietro, standing in the back of the room, shifted his weight uneasily as his eyes followed the plate. Suddenly, the small, roly poly dog yapped excitedly, looking at the dish, jumping slightly on his pillow. Smiling, Mafalda motioned Pietro over, saying, “Please, put this on the floor, so at least Dolce can taste Fiammetta’s finest.”

Mafalda’s pet jumped down from the chair and eagerly began devouring the dish, gulping it in great mouthfuls, perilously big for his small form.

Oh, good boy. Perhaps you’ll choke on it, Matteo thought.

Late in the evening, after dinner and extended farewells, now in the carriage, Matteo thought of nothing else but leaving for his country estate. Though he liked seeing his Nonna, the whole trip had been taxing. One thing he was thankful for though, he no longer believed the fortuneteller’s prophecy was anything more than a clever card trick. Nothing had happened, no dire prediction came true; he was in fine shape!

Something warm, something wet

Just then, he felt something warm, something wet, seeping into his pant leg. His Nonna was fast asleep with her pet laying next to her. Damn it! he thought, The incontinent mutt peed all over the seat! The thought of being soaked in canine urine, especially that canine’s urine, made his skin crawl. Against his better judgment he grabbed Dolce to move him down to the floor. Expecting a fierce battle, the dog simply would not wake up. Limp in his hands, Matteo shook him a bit, trying to rouse him. Shaking him more, he said, under his breath, “Wake up, you little fiend!” Slowly, Matteo realized the awful truth as the mass of fur and fat lay limp in his hands, Oh no! The little bugger’s dead!

Glancing over towards his Nonna, he saw she was still asleep. Panicked as to what to do, he shoved the lifeless form out the window and let it drop to the cobblestone. In a few minutes, he tapped on the roof of the coach with his cane, the driver stopping. Getting out, he said, “I have to relieve myself, I will be back in a moment.” Pietro, wrapped in his cloak beside the carriage driver, watched closely as his master watered the bushes. The manservant’s eyes, staring into the darkness, could discern nothing more.

Presently, Matteo organized himself and returned to the carriage, limping slightly. Pietro tightened his collar around his neck against the cold night when suddenly he heard Matteo’s anguished cry, “Nonna, Nonna!”

The old lady stirred, looking over towards her grandson’s worried face in the opened door, saying feebly, “What, dear?”

As breathlessly as he could manage, Matteo exclaimed, “Dolce’s escaped!”

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